As Covid Continues So Do Visitation Disputes

We have all been living with Covid since approximately March, 2020 and the end while perhaps in sight is still not here. The winter has been tough on every state and the distribution of vaccines while changing every day will still take many more months before the majority of the country feels safe to return to normal life.

Most families in which parenting schedules are in place have been able to navigate the concerns of having their child go back and forth between two homes without having to call their attorneys or to return to court for direction. Nevertheless, there are some general guidelines I can offer having read the cases, having spoken to other attorneys and having listened to my client's concerns.

The easy question is if the child is in isolation due to illness or is quarantined because of exposure then that period should be followed. A question can arise whether a child that is quarantined because of exposure to a classmate should be permitted to see the other parent. I think this is more of an issue for the other parent and their willingness to risk exposure of themself. In other words, the child is not more at risk because the child sees the healthy non-exposed parent.

Another easy question, I think, is if the non-custodial parent has to quarantine or isolate then the child should not have in-person visitation during that 10-14 day time period. Make-ups could always be scheduled and that would be a good thing for the custodial parent to offer as it goes a long way to making the non-custodial parent feel that they are not "punished" for their exposure or illness. The reverse is if the custodial parent is ill or must quarantine, then the question arises should the child be with the other parent. The problem with that is that the child has been exposed and is now going to the other parent's home during what would be the child's quarantine period and thus the non-custodial parent is risking their own exposure. My personal belief is that it would be better to keep the child with the custodial parent and again provide make-up time to the non-custodial parent.

The more difficult cases arise when their is no known exposure or illness, rather the custodial parent has a fear of exposure during visitation. The trend of the cases is to encourage visitation and not to suspend it due to a fear of exposure unless there are very strong reasons and support for the suspension of visitation. Now that more of the front line workers are receiving the vaccine and therefore after two vaccinations may have 95% protection, the initial concerns that those front line working parents are putting their children at risk is greatly reduced.  The courts have already expressed a strong desire that visitation continue during the pandemic absent extraordinary circumstances.  I heard one judge ask a parent whether the child lives in a bubble and never leaves the house.  So the burden of proof will clearly be with the parent looking to suspend visitation.  

At this point where the country has been dealing with Covid for at least 10 months, things should be getting better and the need for court determinations on this issue should be reduced.  Facetime, Skype or Zoom should also be utilized during any periods in which in-person contact does not take place.